Presenting your 2017 Boston Blazers

If you were to make a team consisting entirely of players who didn’t make NLL teams (for reasons other than retirement or injury), how good would it be? I’m only listing players who have played in the NLL before, are not on any NLL active or inactive (IR, PUP, holdout, etc.) roster, and have not officially retired. I also left off players who have decided to skip the NLL season to play in the MLL. I know Paul Rabil is on the Rock’s protected player list (which I believe is different from the holdout list). I suspect Joe Walters is similarly protected by the Knighthawks.

I’ve done this in the past (2012, 2013, and 2014) though I missed the last two years. (And now others are doing it too!) Let’s try it again. Note that I paid absolutely no attention to whether players are right- or left-handed.

Forwards

Kyle Aquin
Mark Cockerton
Josh Gillam
Jamie Lincoln
Kevin Ross
Cliff Smith
Drew Westervelt

Gotta feel bad for Kevin Ross. He couldn’t get playing time on the Rock unless another forward was injured. Then when Doyle and Sanderson both retire, he’s traded to the Knighthawks. Then with Jamieson and Vitarelli injured and Walters gone, he still doesn’t make the roster.

I suspect Smith is protected by the Stealth and Westervelt by the Mammoth but I don’t know for sure.

Josh Gillam

Defense/Transition

Dan Ball (removed since he’s on the Black Wolves practice roster)
Jamie Batson
Colin Boucher
Tyler Codron
Jackson Decker
David Earl
Stephen Hoar
Mike Manley
Bob Snider (on the Roughnecks practice roster)
John Sullivan
Corbyn Tao

I liked what I saw from Boucher last season with the Rock, so I’m a little disappointed he didn’t make the cut.

Goalies

Zak Boychuk
Zach Higgins

Practice Squad

Reid Acton
Cody Hagedorn
Mike Mallory
Jimmy Purves

 

In 2012 I had two Matts in goal, now I have a Zak and a Zach.

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2014 preview: Rochester Knighthawks

Knighthawks

I guess you could say the Knighthawks had a successful 2013 season despite their mediocre 8-8 record. I’m going to go out on a limb and and call back-to-back Championships “successful”. I’m sure they’d like another 12-4 or 11-5 season but as long as they get into the playoffs, perhaps they don’t really care. After an off-season of minimal change, I see no reason why the Knighthawks won’t have another successful season in 2014, but will it be as successful as the last couple? Last season, Rochester became the fourth NLL team to win consecutive Championships, joining Buffalo, Philly (twice), and Toronto (twice). Can they become the first team to do it three straight years?

2013 season summary

Record 8-8 (2nd in East)
Home 3-5
Away 5-3
Goals for 179
Goals against 165
Top scorer Cody Jamieson (89)
Playoffs Division semi-finals: Beat Philadelphia 10-8
Division finals: Beat Minnesota 12-10
Finals: Beat Washington 11-10

Roster changes

Almost none. Only two players on the announced roster weren’t on the Knighthawks last season. Angus Goodleaf begins the season on the PUP list, so the Knighthawks brought Mike Thompson out of retirement as Matt Vinc’s backup. GM (and owner) Curt Styres also signed former Knighthawk Mac Allen from the Mammoth as a restricted free agent. Allen is formerly one of the league’s top defenders and was named to the All-Star team in 2011, but only played in a total of six games in 2012 and 2013 due to injury. If he’s healthy again, Allen will be a welcome addition to an already strong defensive core.

But one of the players missing from last year’s roster is surprising. Mike Accursi is 11th all time in scoring, and only needs 11 points to tie the now-retired Blaine Manning. But he can’t do that if he’s playing on the Boston Blazers (or sitting in the front office, as it turns out). Rory Glaves, Matt Hummell, Jimmy Purves, and Jon Sullivan were also released by the Knighthawks.

Burning question

In my opinion, neither the 2012 Knighthawks nor the 2013 Knighthawks were the best team in the league, but they have two Championships in those years so that’s arguable. Obviously “Can they do it again” is question one. But right behind that is this: How much better can Matt Vinc possibly get? Will the Goaltender of the Year award be Vinc’s to lose for each of the next five years? Or more?

Look out for

Joe Walters. It’s going to be hard to stand out when you play with the likes of Dan Dawson and Cody Jamieson. But hometown boy Walters played very well in their exhibition game against the Rock, and could emerge as their #3 scorer.

Prediction

First in the East.

Haiku

Second straight season
Knighthawks are defending champs
Gonna try for three

2014 preview: Philadelphia Wings

WingsThe Philadelphia Wings have seen plenty of both ends of the success spectrum1. From 1989 to 2001 (13 years), they made it to the finals nine times, winning six of them. In the 90’s, there was no doubt that they were the powerhouse team in the league. And then it all went south. In 2002, the Wings were eliminated from the playoffs by the Washington Power. After that, they only played in one playoff game in the next nine seasons. Now we’re heading into the 2014 season, and the Wings last playoff win was still the 2001 Championship. Blaine Manning played over 200 NLL games and scored almost 900 points over 12 seasons and the Wings never won a single playoff game during his entire career. What the hell happened? A fine question, to be sure, but not one I can answer here.

1 – Did you get the Philadelphia joke there? Spectrum!

But things seem to be turning around for the Wings. They’ve made the playoffs two years in a row, though they lost to the eventual Champion Knighthawks both years. Kevin Crowley had almost identical seasons in his first two years in the league, scoring 71 and 72 points. Not John Grant numbers, but definitely respectable – and remember Shawn Evans didn’t have John Grant numbers either until last year. In fact, Evans had Kevin Crowley numbers for most of his career.

Now they have another new head coach, with Johnny Mouradian stepping down in favour of Blane Harrison. Harrison will be the sixth Wings head coach since their last playoff win.

2013 season summary

Record 7-9 (3rd in East)
Home 4-4
Away 3-5
Goals for 170
Goals against 207
Top scorer Kevin Crowley (72)
Playoffs Division semi-finals: Lost to Rochester 10-8

Roster changes

Holy crap.

I had a paragraph here that I wrote back in November, all about how the addition of Evan Kirk from Minnesota gives the Wings the same goaltender tandem as the Six Nations Chiefs of MSL, who also happen to be this year’s Mann Cup winners. I even said “they might be in their best shape goaltending-wise since a certain Mr. Eliuk was traded west“. And then the rosters were released, and Brandon Miller’s name wasn’t there. Without Miller, the Wings have Evan Kirk and rookie Don Alton. Kirk was exceptional in 2012, with a 9.81 GAA, but that ballooned to 14.47 last season, and he played less than half of the Swarm’s goaltending minutes over the last two years. Now rather than having a veteran with whom he’s familiar as a backup, he’s got Don Alton, with zero minutes of NLL experience and so Kirk will likely be expected to carry the vast majority of the goaltending burden. The Wings aren’t necessarily in deep trouble goaltending-wise, but unless they get a contract worked out with Miller pretty soon, they’re certainly not as strong as I originally thought.

Big righty Drew Westervelt was traded to the Colorado Mammoth for Ryan Hotaling and draft picks. This seemed like an odd trade for the Wings to make, since Hotaling is a transition and face-off guy. No disrespect to him, but the Wings already had Jeff Reynolds, one of the best face-off men in the league, and did they really need another transition guy? Well, it turns out not to matter since neither Hotaling nor Reynolds made the team. And again, the announcement of the rosters screwed up stuff I’d already written. I had “With Paul Rabil, Brodie Merrill, Ned Crotty, Kyle Hartzell, Jordan Hall, and Joel White, the Wings have more trannies than a pride parade.” But of those players, only Merrill, Hall, and White made the team. And Hall isn’t considered transition this year. Thanks a lot for ruining my joke, Mr. Mouradian.

One change I didn’t even notice when the rosters were released was that Kevin Buchanan wasn’t on it but Kyle Buchanan was. This means that the whole “Three Kevins” thing is done. In case you’re wondering, there were only two goals last season featuring all three Kevins, one on February 24 and the other March 1. Both goals were scored by Ross from Crowley and Buchanan, and both were on the power play.

The Wings transition and defense got an overhaul this year – gone are the aforementioned Reynolds, Hartzell, Crotty, and Rabil, as well as Pat Heim, Steve Holmes, Ethan Farrell, and Mike McLellan. In are a bunch of rookies: Garrett Thul, Pat Saunders, John Ranagan, Brian Megill, and Mike Poppleton. Apparently these guys are American field players who are new to box lacrosse, so we’ll see if these guys do any better for the Wings than the last crop of American field players who were new to box lacrosse.

With the Wings signing unrestricted free agent Ryan Ward, the loss of Westervelt is more than mitigated. Ward has averaged over 65 points per season for eight years, so his return to where his career began back in ’04 will be welcome to Wings fans. Another UFA, Tracey Kelusky, is likely near the end of his distinguished career and is coming off the three lowest-scoring (in terms of points per game) seasons of his career. But if he can rebound a little and remain healthy, he could chip in 30-40 points. So with Ward, Kelusky, (Kyle) Buchanan, Jordan Hall, and the two remaining Kevins, the Wings offense might be able to deal with the loss of Westervelt and climb from their league-worst offense in 2013.

Nine of the players on the Wings’ 20-man roster were not on the team last year. Many of the players they are replacing are Americans who are taking the season off to get ready for the 2014 World (Field) Lacrosse Championships this summer. I have to wonder if guys like Crotty and Siebald and even Rabil will be welcomed back next season after bailing on their team (even for something as “noble” as playing for their country), or are they all done in the NLL?

Burning question

  1. Can the Wings make up for the loss of half of their roster?
  2. Can Evan Kirk handle the job of full-time starting goaltender? (See similar question for Tyler Carlson)

Look out for

Kevin Crowley. Despite the acquisition of Ryan Ward, Crowley is still the de facto offensive leader on the team. I can see his numbers going up as he sets out to prove that.

Prediction

Fifth in the East.

Haiku

Lots of turnover
Many will take the year off
Who are these new guys?

2014 Preview: Buffalo Bandits

Bandits

The 2012 season (not last season, the one before) was disappointing for the Bandits. They had their head coach call them stupid and publicly question their heart and commitment during the season, and they finished last in the East. Then in the division semi-finals they allowed just 7 goals and lost. As it turned out though, that wasn’t rock bottom for the Bandits; they actually got worse in 2013. They dropped from 7-9 to 6-10, from 4-4 to 2-6 at home, scored fewer goals, and allowed more. They finished last in the East again but this time did not make the playoffs, the first time the NLL playoffs had started without the Bandits since 2002. If Bandits management were disappointed with 2012, 2013 was the last straw.

GM Steve Dietrich made two major changes and a number of smaller ones. First, Darris Kilgour was let go, and reigning NLL Coach of the Year Troy Cordingley was brought in. Secondly, Dietrich mortgaged the Bandits future (even more than it was already mortgaged) by trading two first round draft picks to Minnesota for Ryan Benesch and Andrew Watt. The Bandits now have no first round draft picks until 2017 (2013 and 2014 to Minnesota for Cosmo, 2015 and 2016 for Benesch / Watt), but for the first time ever they have an heir apparent to the ageless John Tavares.*

* – I believe that as a lacrosse blogger, I am required by law to use the term “the ageless John Tavares” at least once per season until he retires. I first called him “ageless” in 2008. But don’t read the last paragraph of that article, where I talk about Athan Iannucci’s potential to become “one of the best in league history”.

2013 season summary

Record 6-10 (4th in East)
Home 2-6
Away 4-4
Goals for 171
Goals against 211
Top scorer Shawn Williams (65)
Playoffs Missed

Roster changes

Ryan Benesch now anchors the Bandits offense along with veterans Tavares, Shawn Williams, Aaron Wilson, Chad Culp, Jamie Rooney, and Mark Steenhuis. Steenhuis is listed on the Bandits roster as a forward rather than the transition guy he’s been for a few years. He  only scored 38 points last year as a transition guy, but don’t forget he scored 101 in 2009. I don’t think I’d expect that, but if he’s used purely on offense, 70 points for Steenhuis is not out of the question.

Andrew Watt is more than a throw-in as part of the Benesch deal; in fact, the acquisition of this tranny may be the reason Troy Cordingley can use Steenhuis on offense.

Luke Wiles had a terrible 2013. His point total dropped from 70 to only 21 in 12 games, and fans began publicly calling for his head. In September, they got their wish as Wiles was sent to Philadelphia , where he began his career in 2006, for two draft picks. As someone on the NLL Message Board astutely pointed out, Dietrich got more for Wiles after his lousy season (two second rounders) than he gave up for him after a 60-point season (a second and a third). To add insult to injury for the Wings, Wiles did not make the roster.

In another deal, Dietrich sent Carter Bender to Colorado for Rory Smith. Bender only played in three games so it’s hard to say the Bandits will miss him terribly (and he was then released by the Mammoth), but Rory Smith will be a welcome addition. Smith has turned from a pure fighter a few years ago to a solid defenseman who will drop the mitts if necessary, and regardless of what problems your roster might have, you can’t have too many of those.

Tracey Kelusky may still have some gas left in the tank, but after a dismal couple of years the Bandits weren’t willing to take that chance. Kelusky ended up with a decent 54 points in his first year in Buffalo, but in 2012 he fell to 28 points in 12 games – his worst points/game ratio (2.33) of his career by a full point. But after only 10 points in 7 games in 2013 (1.43 – almost another full point lower than 2012), the Bandits gave up and opted not to resign the former Roughnecks captain. Kelusky ended up signing with the Wings and unlike Wiles, he did make the cut.

Burning question

Cosmo. Dude, WTF? Sometimes he’s the old Goaltender-of-the-Year-winning Cosmo, other times he’s just… not.

Look out for

Ryan Benesch. A bit obvious to pick Benny, but arguably no player who changed teams this off-season will have as much of an impact on his new team as Benesch (with the possible exception of Ryan Ward). Not saying it’ll happen, but no Bandit has won the scoring title since John Tavares tied Gary Gait in 2004.

Prediction

Third in the East.

Haiku

JT will return
Benny adds his scoring touch
Troy turns it around?

2014 preview: Toronto Rock

Rock

The Rock had a successful season in 2013 by all accounts, finishing first in the East division and winning a Les Bartley award for head coach Troy Cordingley. But an early exit from the playoffs (and in such a – what’s the opposite of dominating? – fashion, a 20-11 drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Swarm) must have had a significant impact on Terry Sanderson and Jamie Dawick, and Cordingley was let go. When offensive coach John Lovell was named head coach, there was some talk on the NLL message boards about the last time the Rock had a rookie head coach – that being Glenn Clark. Obviously that experiment failed miserably, but Lovell is not Glenn Clark. He’s never been a head coach at the NLL level, but has been coaching lacrosse for many years and is very well respected.

Behind Lovell will be two more rookie coaches, neither of whom have coached at the NLL level at all – former Rock players Dan Ladouceur and the recently retired Blaine Manning.

2013 season summary

Record 10-6 (1st in East)
Home 5-3
Away 5-3
Goals for 194
Goals against 176
Top scorer Garrett Billings (100)
Playoffs Division semi-finals: Lost to Minnesota 20-11

Roster changes

Other than the retirement of Blaine Manning and Cam Woods, there wasn’t much in the way of changes to the Rock roster over the off-season. They made no trades and signed no free agents. Manning’s presence will still be felt as the offensive coach, but he and Woods will both be missed on the floor. Phil Sanderson didn’t play last year at all, but he confirmed with me on Twitter that he will not be playing in 2014, and is unlikely to play in the NLL again. Scott Evans, Roger Vyse, and veteran defender Mike Hobbins were also released in the pre-season.

They only have two this year, but the Rock have been pretty successful with rookies recently. Guys like Kyle Belton, Jesse Gamble, Garrett Billings, and Stephen Leblanc were all drafted by the Rock within the last five years, and Lovell is hoping this year’s crop continues that trend. Top 2013 draft pick Ethan O’Connor will be joining the team as well as defender Craig England. Those two are the only members of the Rock roster who didn’t play for the Rock last season.

The Rock broke with tradition this year, and actually named transition players. O’Connor, Jesse Gamble, and Kyle Belton are all listed on transition. Not sure why Marshall wasn’t. Last year, I believe Gamble was listed as transition but that was it. Everyone else was either F or D (or G) and prior to last year, I don’t think they named any transition players at all.

Burning question

There are only six forwards on the roster, which means that each one will get a lot more playing time per game than in previous years. Three of the six forwards are 33 or older. Billings, Leblanc, and Hellyer will be fine, but will playing the increased minutes for 18 games instead of 16 wipe out the vets? Will Doyle, Sanderson, and Beirnes still be 100% come playoff time?

Look out for

Kyle Belton. Played mostly as a defender in his rookie year, but has been a forward in the past. He, Gamble, and O’Connor looked really good on transition in the pre-season games against Rochester and Colorado.

Prediction

Second in the East.

Haiku

Rock stick to their guns
Not many roster changes
But a new head coach

2014 preview: Minnesota Swarm

Swarm

The Swarm were the youngest team in the NLL in 2012. How young were they? Jeff Gilbert was the oldest player on the team at the age of 29. The season didn’t start off strongly, and by early March the Swarm were sitting at 3-7 and tied for last in the West. But suddenly everything just seemed to fall together, and they won three straight by 7, 9, and 14 goals. It looked like the Swarm would finish strong but then they lost two of their last three and did finish last in the west. Thanks to the lousy Bandits season, the Swarm were able to cross over to the East where they crushed the Rock 20-11 before the Knighthawks ended the up-and-down Swarm season in the division finals.

The Swarm are now back in the East division, where they were from 2005-2008. Unfortunately for them, this means that they’ll have to face former star Ryan Benesch more often than they would have if they’d stayed in the West.

2013 season summary

Record 7-9 (tied for 4th in West, seeded 5th)
Home 5-3
Away 2-6
Goals for 219
Goals against 202
Top scorer Callum Crawford (95)
Playoffs Division semi-finals: Beat Toronto 20-11
Division finals: Lost to Rochester 12-10

Roster changes

Obviously the biggest loss is Ryan Benesch, right? On the offensive side of the floor, sure, but it could be argued that trading Evan Kirk and going with Tyler Carlson as the full-time starting goaltender is even more significant. Carlson played 505 minutes last year, about the same as his rookie year. But compare that with Mike Poulin, Matt Vinc, and Nick Rose, all of whom were over 900 minutes. And given that there are two extra regular season games, Carlson is being asked to basically double his playing time from last year.

The loss of Benesch will definitely hurt the Swarm offense – he’s been one of the most dynamic scorers in the league for years and led the Swarm in goals last year. But 2013 was Callum Crawford’s best season ever, Shayne Jackson and “transition players” Kiel Matisz and Jordan MacIntosh are only going to get better, they’ll get a full season of Josh Gillam (19 points in 6 games), and there’s a couple of new kids in town: Logan Schuss and Scott Jones. Given all of that, the Swarm just might be able to get by without a huge drop in offense.

Three young defense/transition players from last year – Jay Card, Corbyn Tao, and Dan Ball – will not be returning this year, but former Rock defender Mike Hobbins joins the team and Swarm fans are anxious to see Jason Noble in action. But the return of Andrew Suitor is likely the most welcome change to the team, after the captain missed eleven games to injury last year.

Burning question

Can Tyler Carlson handle the job of full-time starting goaltender? (See similar question for Evan Kirk)

Look out for

Kiel Matisz. He’s listed under “transition”, but don’t you believe it: he’s a forward. After a 63-point rookie season and runner-up for Rookie of the Year, I can see the man they call Moose challenging Crawford for the team scoring lead.

Prediction

Fourth in the East.

Haiku

The captain is back
Schuss, Noble, and Jones debut
But no more Benesch

2014 preview: Edmonton Rush

Rush

The 2012 Rush had a sub-.500 regular season but caught fire in the playoffs, making it to their first-ever Championship game. Their 2013 regular season was better – only their second .500 or better season in their eight seasons – but they couldn’t quite match the playoff success from the previous year. But the Rush have shown themselves to be a strong team that nobody takes for granted anymore… except maybe Calgary. During the regular season, anyway. With another strong draft, there’s no reason to think the Rush can’t contend in 2014.

2013 season summary

Record 9-7, tied for 1st in West (seeded 3rd)
Home 2-6
Away 7-1
Goals for 203
Goals against 170
Top scorer Ryan Ward (75)
Playoffs Division semi-finals: Lost to Washington 12-11

Roster changes

In October, captain Jimmy Quinlan announced his retirement. This is a big loss for the Rush. Obviously Quinlan has been a strong player, on offense for a few years (including two 50+ point seasons) and more defensive for the last four, but he’ll be missed for much more than his on-field contributions. Hometown boy Quinlan was one of the first players acquired by the Rush as a new franchise, and he’s been the heart and soul of the Rush for the entire history of the franchise – he is to the Rush what Kaleb Toth was to the Roughnecks. Quinlan only missed one game over his eight seasons in Edmonton. But the former captain will remain with the team in a different capacity. Former defensive coach Devan Wray has retired due to family commitments, and so Quinlan will take over the role of defensive coach.

Only two teams scored more goals last year than the Rush. But this off-season, they lost a fair number of those. Ryan Ward was an unrestricted free agent and chose to sign with the Philadelphia Wings, so his 75 points are gone. Corey Small tore his ACL during the WLA playoffs, so his 64 points are gone. Between them, Ward and Small scored 49 of the Rush’s 203 goals, or 24%. Mark Matthews was one of the most successful rookies in recent years, and he scored about 20% of the Rush’s goals in his rookie season. So counting on rookies not named Matthews to make up that 24% seems a bit optimistic. The addition of righty forward Robert Church should help (and might help quite a bit – I’ve already seen tweets predicting that he’ll be the Rookie of the Year), but that’s a lot of ground to make up.

Also missing from last year’s Rush are Alex Turner and Jarrett Toll.

Burning question

A few years ago, I thought the Roughnecks were in deep offensive trouble because they lost both Josh Sanderson and Tracey Kelusky. What happened? The likes of Scott Ranger, Jeff Shattler, Dane Dobbie, and some kid named Curtis Dickson all stepped up and produced one of the top offenses in the league (and then they got Shawn Evans). Expecting that level of success from the Rush after the loss of Ward and Small is really optimistic, but can Matthews and Church save the Rush offense?

Look out for

Curtis Knight. After a better-than-decent 46 points in his rookie season, he’s not going to be eclipsing Mark Matthews but could he be the second top scorer on the Rush this year? Sure he could.

Prediction

Third in the west.

Haiku

Ward off to Philly
Jim Quinlan behind the bench
Church and Matthews score